By Kay Harms

Not only have Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers served those in the clutches of disaster in recent months, but they have also prepared to coordinate efforts with other volunteer and government agencies to assist in future catastrophes.

May 21-24, AZSBC Disaster Relief volunteers participated in the annual National Mass Care Exercise (NMCE) in Phoenix and across the state. The NMCE is a cooperative exercise in which state, federal and local governments, along with businesses and volunteer organizations, work through a large-scale simulated disaster in order to better coordinate response efforts in future catastrophic events.

“This year’s simulated scenario was a significant earthquake — 7.8 — in southern California,” explained Patty Kirchner, AZSBC Disaster Relief feeding unit manager. “Evacuees traveled into
and through Arizona. While they were on their journey, we had to provide food for them.”

Kirchner participated, along with about 15 other people from the Red Cross, FEMA and other volunteer groups, in the feeding task force that fed the evacuees in the simulated disaster. The group’s task was to find resources — both people and fixed resources, such as food and supplies — to feed people coming into Arizona.

“There are a lot of things to consider when you’re trying to feed people who are on the move,” said Kirchner. “You want to provide hot meals when you can, but also immediate needs such as MREs [meals ready to eat] need to be handed out on the interstate, and you have to consider evacuees with special dietary needs. You really begin to see the scope of a disaster.”

While Kirchner participated in the feeding task force, about 40 AZSBC Disaster Relief volunteers operated the AZSBC feeding and shower units, providing meals and showers for the approximately 800 people who participated in NMCE.

While the NMCE focused on possible future disaster relief, the Arizona Disaster Relief volunteers responded to current, real-life needs recently, too.

Earlier in May, volunteers provided showers and meals to evacuees from the Tinder Fire in northern Arizona. Because of these volunteers’ efforts, residents in the area expressed interest in receiving training so they could provide help in future catastrophes. As a result, AZSBC Disaster Relief provided training in Happy Jack at the Blue Ridge Community Church, a non-denominational church.

Said AZSBC Disaster Relief State Director Mitch McDonald, “We trained 32 people in Happy Jack, and most of them were from two non-denominational churches in that area. We allowed those trained volunteers to borrow our ash-out equipment, and they ashed out 11 homes there.”

Reaching beyond denominational lines is not only an important act of unity among believers for disaster relief, but it allows AZSBC Disaster Relief to have further reach and impact in helping those in crisis, McDonald said.

“We now have 30 people trained to provide disaster relief in a strategic area where we had no one before,” he said.

Recruiting and training new volunteers is a constant goal for Disaster Relief.

That’s why McDonald and his wife, Mona, vice president and director of Arizona Baptist Children’s Services & Family Ministries’ Pursue Life Adult Ministries, joined forces to coordinate a Travel with a Purpose Cruise this spring. These unconventional mission trips “blend the luxuries of vacationing with opportunities to ‘get your hands dirty’ and serve others in the name of Jesus,” according to the ABCS website.

Before leaving on this third Travel with a Purpose cruise, participants participated in six weeks of Disaster Relief training in kitchen and mud out. Then, while on the cruise, the newly trained Disaster Relief workers helped communities in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean island chain who were still struggling from the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“We were eating like kings and sleeping in nice beds,” admitted Mitch McDonald, “but every day when we get off the boat, we just threw on work shorts and shoes and DR shirts. Then we worked really hard to rebuild damaged facilities, feed people and offer encouragement. It’s just a different way to do missions.”

The McDonalds believe that “doing missions” this way may be what it takes to get people involved in missions or disaster relief who otherwise would have resisted. In fact, Mitch McDonald said that one cruise participant admitted as much.

“I don’t know if I would have gone [on the mission trip] had it not been a cruise, but I have to tell you, that has forever changed,” said a cruise participant from Yuma. “The cruise got me hooked into going, but I will definitely go on mission trips again.”

And there will undoubtedly be more needs in the future for people trained in disaster relief to lend a helping hand. That’s why Patty Kirchner wanted to remind Arizona Southern Baptists to be praying for God’s protection during this fire season, noting that conditions are currently severely conducive to fires.

To keep up with AZSBC Disaster Relief through social media, follow Arizona SBC Disaster Relief on Facebook, @azsbc_dr on Twitter and @azsbcdisasterrelief on Instagram.